This year's New Era Pinstripe Bowl will be the 4th bowl game ever played in NYC. If history is any indication, tomorrow's game will be anything but normal. Here's a brief rundown of the history of failed post-season college football in New York.
GOTHAM BOWL 0 - 1960 (No Game Played)
From the New York Times:
Headlines trumpeted the Gotham Bowl as a welcome addition to the 1960 bowl parade. Organizers envisioned a packed Yankee Stadium with brass bands and 55,000 cheering fans. They trotted out the former Giants great Ken Strong to drum up excitement. Wouldn’t it be great, Strong wondered aloud, if Notre Dame or Syracuse would accept invitations to play?
But Notre Dame did not play bowl games in those days. Syracuse turned down an invitation to the Gotham Bowl, as did Oregon State, Colorado and even Holy Cross. Who could blame them? Mid-December in New York is usually, well, bone-chillingly cold. The result: no Gotham Bowl in 1960.
Think about that for a second. They expected 55,000 cheering fans to show up to a December bowl game in NYC. They even trotted out a former New York Giant to try and get some marquee talent on board (and when that failed, Colorado.)
It should be noted at this point that there were only 9 Bowl Games played at the end of the 1960 season. Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Sun, Gator, Tangerine, Bluebonnet, and Liberty. Only 18 teams actually got to play in Bowl Games back then. How times have changed.
This would be nothing more than a sad case of delusional expectations had it not been for the absolutely ridiculous invitation process:
Notre Dame was invited despite a 2-8 record, but declined because they didn't go to Bowl Games back then.
#19 Syracuse, who were the defending national champions, announced before Bowl season that they would not be attending any bowl game in 1960 despite Gotham Bowl organizers begging them to show up.
Tennessee (6-2-2) turned down an invitation that they never actually recieved.
Oregon State (6-3-1) actually got on board and agreed to be one of the teams invited, at which point the frenzied hunt for an opponent was on.
Holy Cross (6-4) was invited and accepted, and the game seemed to be on. But the bowl committee, probably thinking that they could get a team with a larger fanbase, backed out of their deal with the school without any sort of explanation.
The bowl invited Colorado (6-4) as a replacement, but Colorado declined citing too many injuries, and that they did not believe that their record deserved an invitation to the bowl game.
Stunned, the bowl committee quickly tried to re-invite Holy Cross. It went about as well as you would expect.
At this point, Oregon State withdrew their bid acceptance as well:
Desperate, Gotham officials next turned to the Southeastern Conference. But it was too late. Keene had pulled the Beavers from the game. His telegram was polite but firm: "We were honored to receive the invitation...but information received since that time indicates preparations are incomplete...and perhaps plans for the year are premature. For this reason, Oregon State regretfully withdraws from the Gotham Bowl."
As a last resort, the bowl tried to invite Army and Air Force to play. Air Force agreed to show up if Army did as well, but like Notre Dame, Army didn't go to bowl games back then. The inaugural Gotham Bowl was called off.
GOTHAM BOWL I - 1961 (BAYLOR 24, UTAH STATE 9)
Armed with a new executive director (and the same old "get Syracuse to show up" strategy), the Gotham Bowl charged ahead into 1961. The bowl managed to enlist #10 Utah State (9-0-1) as an opponent for the Orangemen, and waited patiently to hear back from Syracuse.
Problem was, this was back before there was a clear pecking order when it came to Bowls - bowl games just extended invitations to whoever they wanted to show up. Syracuse got invitations to both the Gotham and the Liberty, and the team voted amongst themselves to accept the Liberty Bowl bid.
This left the Gotham Bowl scrambling for a second team, and they ended up settling for a 5-5 Baylor. Scheduled to be played at the rather crappy Polo Grounds (Home of the NEW YORK TITANS!), the announced attendance was just over 15,000. (Eye-witnesses reported that there were more pigeons than people.) Despite being nationally televised on ABC and the game ostensibly being a way to raise money for the March of Dimes, the game ended up losing over $100,000 in it's first iteration. (This was back before they had perfected the Bowl Game money-making University-bilking scam as we know it today.)
Baylor upset the Aggies on a cold, bleak, windy day to secure their 4th ever bowl win. Perhaps more importantly, the Utah State players got lost in the Subway system and were on the Today Show. That alone makes the trip a success.
GOTHAM BOWL II - 1962 (NEBRASKA 36, MIAMI 34)
Someone on the bowl committee finally wised up and realized that while warm-climate bowl games can rely on the weather as an attraction, any cold-weather bowl needs to have the location be part of the attraction. So, in another risky and calculated gamble, the bowl committee shelled out enough bribes to the right people and secured historic Yankee Stadium as the venue.
And they got Miami (8-2) to show up! (After their $30,000 expense check cleared, of course. This is the Hurricanes we're talking about.) But once that happened, Miami turned down the Gator Bowl in favor of showing off future hall of fame QB George Mira off in Yankee Stadium. This shows that the committee had learned the other rule of making a cold-weather bowl game attractive - have a big payout to the schools.
(The Pinstripe Bowl will pay Iowa State $2,000,000 this year for showing up to play at Yankee Stadium. That's more than the Texas or Insight Bowls pay to their teams, despite picking teams ahead of the Pinstripe.)
And then... nothing. The Gotham Bowl could not find an opponent to save their collective lives. Finally, on December 4th (11 days before the game), Nebraska (8-2) agreed to play, but the team plane stubbornly sat on the runway in Lincoln for over two hours and refused to take off until a $35,000 expense check was deposited in the school's coffers by Gotham Bowl officials.
It was at this point (One week before the game) that two things happened in New York City; A major newspaper strike kicked off, and it got REALLY COLD.
December 15th, 1962 was a miserable, damp, and cold day with an average temperature of 14 degrees. The ground at Yankee Stadium was frozen. Only 6,166 tickets to the game were sold, and despite another 5,000 being given away, total attendance at the game was estimated at less than 2,000 people. Which was too bad, because by most accounts, it was a pretty damn good game. Bowl MVP George Mira threw for 321 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but also threw a last-minute pick to Nebraska's Bob Brown to seal a Husker victory. The 36-34 bowl win was Nebraska's first, it's national broadcast on ABC's Wide World of Sports helped boost the Nebraska Football Brand.
If you're actually interested in more of a recap of the game, check here. If nothing else, I thought it was interesting because of this:
The hearty fans present in Yankee Stadium for the game may have been very grateful the game was entertaining, because the halftime festivities probably left a lot to be desired. While the teams warmed their bones in the locker rooms, Nebraska's "Sunshine Girl" Joyce Burns took the field and twirled her baton in the centerfield area to music piped in over the public address system. That was the whole halftime show. Neither school thought enough of the game to send their marching bands to perform. Bowl game halftime shows have come a long way since 1962.
Despite being major cheap-asses when it came to the Halftime entertainment, the game lost another $50,000 and was quietly pulled from the bowl line-up for the next year.
PINSTRIPE BOWL I - 2010 (SYRACUSE 36, KANSAS STATE 34)
50 years after the first attempt at post-season football in NYC, the market had finally expanded to the point where cold weather bowl games are actually a profit-making "non-profit" venture. New Era jumped on board as the sponsor, because a baseball hat company working with a baseball team to hold a football game in a baseball stadium makes perfect sense in this sport. (Reason #34 I love college football.)
The game itself was a back-and-forth affair, but ended on an ugly note. After Syracuse went up 36-28 with a little over 3:00 left in the 4th quarter, the Wildcats came charging back down the field... and then THIS happened:
(If the embedding doesn't work right, fast forward to 4:54)
Further proof that referees hate America: Flagged 15 yards for saluting the crowd. (Rumors suggest that he was saluting his father, who was in the military and in the stands, but no official word was ever given.) As a result, a team known for their power running game was forced to go 18 yards instead of 3 yards for the tying 2-pt conversion, and failed.
Still looking forward to tomorrow's game?